The word Halloween is a Scottish contraction of All Hallow’s Even or All Hallow’s Eve, a reference to All Saint’s Day which falls on the first of November. October 31st is the day before, or eve of, this church holiday. The contraction dates to the 18th century when it is first recorded in the Scottish folk ballad Young Tamlane:
This night is Hallowe’en, Janet,
The morn is Hallowday.
The form All Hallow’s Eve is older, dating to at least 1556. From the Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London:
Thys yere the towne of Depe was tane...on Halhalon evyn.
(This year the town of Depe was taken...on All Hallow’s even.)
And the church holiday is even older. From Ælfric’s Grammar from c.1000:
se mónað ongynð on ealra halgena mæssedæg
(The month begins on All Hallow’s Mass-day.)
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton